FAA Tees Up to Draft Next Drone Rule for Flights Out of Sight

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By Michaela Ross

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will likely draft a rule allowing commercial drones to fly beyond an operator’s line of sight after the agency finishes its draft rule for flights over people, FAA administrator Michael Huerta told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6.

Currently, operators of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV’s, must apply for a waiver with the FAA to fly beyond their line of sight under the agency’s Part 107 rule for small commercial drones, released last August. The August rule also requires waivers for operators to fly commercial drones at night or over people who are not involved in the flight. The agency will look to its industry and academic-led Drone Advisory Committee, or DAC, to prioritize the order of rules, but it is likely the line of sight issue will be taken up next, Huerta said.

“Those are both very high on industry’s list,” Huerta said.

The draft rule allowing commercial operators to fly over people was expected by December 2016. Huerta would not give a new timeline for that regulation, but said it is still slated to be issued first.

Most of the waivers issued since the August rule have been for night operations, Huerta said. The agency has issued a combined total of almost 1,200 airspace authorizations and waivers since August, an FAA spokesman told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

The FAA is also working to automate the waiver application system in an effort to streamline the process. That initiative has been slowed by budget issues, Huerta said. The agency’s funding has been at a standstill for the past several years as Congress has been stuck in a cycle of passing short-term continuing resolutions in place of annual budgets. The FAA has been trying to shift around its resources so that work on improving the application process can go forward, Huerta said.

“This is a high priority for us,” Huerta told Bloomberg BNA. “But we’ve been operating under CRs for quite a while, and if you just think about where the industry has come over the last couple of years, clearly there are a lot of needs that we have to continue to focus on.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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